The Man Who Panned the Beatles

Paul Jones was 67 when he wrote his now famous diatribe about The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Here’s what we can learn from it.

Paul J. Jones was a well respected columnist for the Philadelphia Bulletin between 1946 and 1969.  Born in 1897, he grew up with a lot of seismic change.

He witnessed the Jazz Age and The Great Depression, was old enough to remember World War I and young enough to have served in World War II.  His musical experience likely spanned vaudeville, the big band era,  Frank Sinatra’s swooning crooning to the bobby soxers and the birth of Rock & Roll.

His New York Times obituary notes that he, “…graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1920 and received a doctorate in Romance languages there in 1937. He was a member of the Penn faculty for eight years.”

On February 9, 1964, he was 67 years old and among the millions to witness John, Paul, George and Ringo’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

He hated them.

“If Ed Sullivan can find no better use for the time allotted him on Sunday night than to devote it to such exhibitions as he presented last Sunday night I suggest that CBS-TV find something else to put in this hour of prime time. Why Sullivan found it necessary to aid in the phony promotion of four rock ‘n’ roll exponents, all of whom resemble Moe of the Three Stooges, is beyond comprehension.”

There is no accounting for taste, but it’s not surprising that the guy who panned the Beatles, a classically taught literature fan with zero musical training might have trouble understanding what was happening.

As a high school senior in 1973, Vic Bordo began our Music Theory class with a deep dive into the construction of a half dozen Beatle tunes, showing us how they had their roots in both Rhythm and Blues, and yes, classical music. “To understand the present, we must study the past,” he told us. The royalty who provided patronage to Mozart and Beethoven were the roots of Tin Pan Alley and The Brill Building. The Four Lads themselves give nods to Elvis and Motown among their influences. Their success was discovering new ways to package the emotional power of music with the ever expanding technical tools of amplification and multi-track recording to appeal to an evolving audience.

We can’t fault poor Mr. Jones for getting stuck in his paradigms. As I rebirth as a radio station, I’ve had to reach beyond my own magical musical years. Many my age count everything from Bon Jovi to Bublé as part of the soundtrack of our lives. Filling the Keener library has been a fun romp through music I missed when I was focused more on balance sheets than broadcasting.

From the perspective of history, Paul Jones feels like a tragic figure, the guy who got it wrong big time during the moment when our culture turned a page and everything changed.

But I feel for him.

We are now faced with frightening challenges to many of the assumptions we connect with democracy and the American Dream. We would do well to compare the latest “music and lyrics” to the fundamental truths on which enduring ideas are based. For all their youth and perceived naiveté, The Beatles constantly explored how to elevate their art, without losing site of the contributions from those who came before. “Peace and Love,” Ringo’s constant mantra, was at the center.

How much of what is said and done today in the name of “greatness” will be seen in that light from the rear view mirror of history?